Jenkins often speaks about the influx of Latino immigrants to the United States and how, when their birth rate and inflow is taken into account, mean a dramatic rise in the number of Christians in the United States. Now, statistically that seems to make some sense, but my own experience suggest otherwise.
I spent half my childhood in a city with a high ratio of Mexican migrant workers, accounting for nearly 50% of the population. My impression though is that they were not particularly religious but had rather dove head-first into American secular materialism. They’re all supposed to be Catholic, but if that’s the case than few of them must have ever gone to church. The Catholic congregations remained relatively small. There were no Latino churches bursting at the seams, and their should have been if even a forth of the immigrants in a 10-mile radius attended any sort of worship service. I knew of a handful of Spanish-speaking Pentecostal churches in town, but they were small. I couldn’t observe any evidence that these southern immigrants were any less secular than anyone else.
Was this just my experience? Does anyone out there live in, say, Arizona among a huge community of faithful Latinos? I’m assuming they are out there, I just haven’t ever seen ’em where they (should?) be.
That’s the main problem I see with Jenkin’s projections throughout his book (The Next Christendom). He does not take seriously enough the power of wealth to squash faith. Rich Muslim countries lose their religious depth when they are covered in oil. Christian and Muslim migrants to Europe or the U.S. find they are more excited about cars and TVs than piety. In the southern strongholds where everyone is still poor, or at least everyone knows a lot of poor people, the effect from the secular outside is limited. But when you transplant someone to L.A. or London, they get distracted. Sometimes permanently so. Ultimately, for this (and some other reasons) I am not as optimistic about Jenkin’s projections of Christianity taking over much of the world. They need to have lots of kids (which they do) AND train them up well (easier said then done). Maybe they can. This could still be a LOT better though, across the board. We probably have a thousand things to learn form the Africans, but they could maybe learn a few things from us. How do you love God after you’re rich? Most of them haven’t had to answer that question – yet.